A Spectacular Cave in Eastern Cuba

Near the City of Mayari, Holguin 

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

HAVANA TIMES — Just 5 kms away from Mayari’s city center, you can find Seboruco Cave, a truly unique place in our local region. It has been declared a National Monument not just because of the general allure these unique structures create, resembling “homes” made by Nature, but also because of the idyllic landscape which surrounds it and the myths and legends of this place.

Antonio Nunez Jimenez reached this place in 1948 on one of his speleological expeditions and he discovered the oldest remains of native peoples in Cuba and the Caribbean islands (over 6,000 years old). Other remains were discovered recently in Matanzas province, which appear to be older, but this has yet to be confirmed. At Mayari’s municipal musuem, you can find some of the objects he discovered.

The cave itself is made up of several caverns in the vertical side of a mountain which is split by a riverbed, which currently runs underground in front of the mountain, but its riverbed is completely covered in round stones due to a strong current in the past. This is why it is officially called the Outcrops of Seboruco. You can find the river 200 meters away, downstream; and at the same distance upstream, the river appears with crystal clear water like you’ve never seen before.

These mountains are the first foothills which emerge like tongues out of Mayari’s valley and they rise up towards the Nipe mountain range, where the Pinares de Mayari tableau stands out. The cave’s different entrances are interconnected by narrow and damp tunnels, which travel downwards to reach a water reservoir belonging to the underground river. Only three of the entrances are at an accessible level and two are only reachable by dangerously climbing at a height above 10 meters. From a distance, they look like balconies of a large, unusual building.

They initially open up into large rooms which connect to each other and this is where outdoors people have been coming for a long time. This is demonstrated by a campaign slogan on its walls, a trace of Ramon Grau San Martin’s presidential campaign in the late 1940s. However, writings on the cave’s walls are normally memories people have left behind and names of lovers in hearts, written in chalk, which damage the pictographic remains of Cuba’s native peoples.

When Hurricane Flora swept through in October 1961, Mayari Valley flooded like never before and Seboruco cave served as a refuge for dozens of rural families in the region. Their homes were converted into a huge lake for several days and they were able to save themselves thanks to the powerful rock wall higher than the valley and with natural spaces for humans to take shelter.

Today, family trips, school excursions and young people in general come very often in the summer, combining the cave experience with a swim in its river, known as Seboruquito. Many tourist packages promoted by the self-employed also include a trip in old US Jeep 4x4s, as an alternative to promote their own rental homes.

Less people visit between October and April and that’s when thieves come to use it to hide animals they’ve stolen to sacrifice or to ask their owners for ransom money. Authorities have clearly neglected the cave and greater control and surveillance of such an important place like this one is much-needed.

Delinquents aren’t the only ones causing harm, campers are too, finding themselves free to do whatever they want in this Eden without an owner and the landscape has been visibly affected on more than one occasion. They cut down trees in surrounding areas and make campfires inside the cave which sometimes spread dangerously due to bat guano which builds up on the ground.

The cave and its surroundings are crying out for better protection and use. It’s the perfect place to encourage camping holidays, with facilities for visitors, subject to conservation projects which minimize their negative environmental impact. Cuba’s Academy of Sciences, which has its affiliate in nearby mountains, could develop joint projects in collaboration with this tourism.

Many flora and fauna species, some of which are native such as the Polymita venusta, live around the cave. Their population numbers have dropped as a result of strategic, hydraulic and mining projects nearby, without publicly known (or at least “understood”) environmental regulations being taken into account. Others have yet to be studied.

It is definitely an idyllic place worth visiting and municipal authorities need to care for it better, there’s no doubt about that.